March 27, 2013

"Safe" designation will include bragging rights

As published in The Erin Advocate

By June, Wellington County is expected to be declared a "Safe Community", enhancing its reputation as an excellent place to live and work.

The designation is awarded by a Parachute, a national charitable organization dedicated to preventing injuries and promoting a culture in which everyone takes responsibility for safety.

About 22 per cent of Canadians live in municipalities designated as "safe communities", but Wellington will be only the second county (after Bruce County) to achieve that status.

Wellington's quest for the designation was co-chaired by County Councillor Gary Williamson (Mount Forest) and OPP Staff Sergeant Jack Hunjan, and involved meetings with local Community Oriented Policing (COP) committees, a survey of existing services, a Leadership Table with representative of various sectors, a "priority exercise" and a strategic plan to promote awareness.

"Injury is predictable and preventable," said Hunjan, in a presentation to Erin Town Council. "Pain and suffering can be reduced."

A world convention on injury prevention in Stockholm back in 1989 helped start the effort, declaring that a safe life is a basic human right.

Parachute is an amalgamation of four groups – Safe Communities Canada, SmartRisk, Safe Kids Canada and Thinkfirst. Safe Communities Canada is dedicated to mobilizing efforts to reduce the rates and severity of injuries by coordinating efforts among various agencies ranging from police and fire departments, to schools, public health, drug and alcohol prevention, and workplace safety.

The priority exercise identified various categories of injuries, which were analyzed based on death rates, potential years of life lost, the number of emergency department visits and hospitalizations, and the length of hospital stays.

Final rankings show the sources of injuries, starting with the most common:

#1 Falls
#2 Motor vehicle accidents (on and off-road)
#3 Intentional self-harm
#4 Sports and recreation accidents
#5 Agriculture and machinery accidents
#6 Accidental poisonings
#7 Pedestrian and cycling accidents

Safety has financial benefits, including savings for the health care system, and improved morale and productivity in the workplace. The World Health Organization estimates that every dollar a community invests in safety will return at least 40 dollars in savings. Wellington County plans to provide sustained funding for this effort.

There are also tourism and economic development advantages for "safe communities", since they will be seen as a preferred place for visiting or investing.

"A sign in the county that says 'Designated Safe Community' is going to bring in a lot of tourism," said Hunjan. "It's an investment which can attract new residents and businesses."

The designation will be another feather in Wellington County's safety cap, since they were also selected in December by Macleans Magazine as Canada's Safest Community. The title was previously held by the Town of Caledon.

That ranking was based on analysis of Statistics Canada's Crime Severity Index, and of police data for six types of offences: homicide, sexual assault, aggravated assault, robbery, break-ins and auto theft.